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Is every gene in your body working all the time?

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affejunge | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted October 22, 2011 at 2:42 PM via web

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Is every gene in your body working all the time?

Tagged with biology, dna, genes, science

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pacorz | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted October 23, 2011 at 2:07 AM (Answer #1)

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The short answer to your question is "no". A gene is a region of DNA that contains the instructions for creating one specific protein. If the cell needs that protein, the gene is active. If it does not, then the gene is inactive.

Cells exhibit something that scientists call totipotency, meaning that every cell in your body carries a complete set of instructions for making every protein that the body needs. However cells are differentiated to perform specific jobs, and not all proteins are required to do every job. For example, the cells in your eyelids contain  the information necessary to make digestive enzymes; however they don't do that, as it's not part of their job.

There are also genes in the human genome that have become inactive for evolutionary reasons; whatever purpose they served in the past is no longer part of our lives in the present day.

A good analogy would be to think of a cell's DNA as a set of encyclopedias, with each subject entry representing one gene. If you want to learn about DNA, you look up that entry in the "D" volume, and all the information is right there. Just as you might use certain volumes of the encyclopedia frequently and never open others, you have genes in your body that work all the time and others that may never be activated.

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